The Madonna Estate sits between The Boon Fly Cafe and Domaine Carneros on the road between Napa and Sonoma. We have driven past it countless times and barely noticed it, let alone given it consideration as a place to taste. The single storey building is nondescript; especially compared to Domaine Carneros’ French château on a hill. On this particular day we were looking for a place in the area that required no reservations and served Pinot Noir. The result of the search was Madonna Estate.
The tasting room interior is almost spartan in its simplicity, with a bar running the length of the room and regular tiles on the floor. They have been in their current location since the 1970s (California Girl Comments: Spartan is kind; starkly shabby and outdated is how I would describe it.) There are some Italian style paintings on the wall; a reflection of the origins of the family who owns it, who are now in their fourth generation as Napa vintners. The lack of architectural appeal is in stark contrast to the friendly, knowledgeable server (Jessica) who greeted us and took us through the tasting. (California Girl Comments: I would agree, the staff warmth and friendliness made up for its lack of decor and polish.)
The winery has been certified organic since 1991. Their vines are dry farmed after the first three years.
The tasting menu was $10.00 for five wines, with an extra charge for the reserve wines. That fee represents excellent value, especially given the variety and quality of the wines. (California Girl Comments: With tastings starting at $25.00 in most of Napa and going up to the $50-$75.00 price point, the price of $10.00 was a bargain! Quality wine for a very reasonable tasting fee.)
We started with the 2013 Chardonnay. I found pear on the nose and a taste of soft, creamy honey. A drinkable, but unremarkable wine. Priced at $25.00
California Girl Comments: I agree with The Brit on his assessment of this wine, though I also got a smokey flavor and a very dry finish.
2012 Pinot Noir: There were redcurrants on the nose and in the mouth I detected tobacco. Overall soft and balanced; a great example of inexpensive Pinot Noir. Priced at $32.00
California Girl Comments: Notes of cloves and spices, smooth and lush with low tannins. The softness of the fruit was really pleasant and I thought it was very nice overall.
2008 Due Ragazze (Two Girls) Pinot Noir Reserve: This was one of the $5 extras. The nose was a complex melange of earthy moss. In the mouth there was a spicy, well-rounded, fruit flavour. Priced at $60, which would have seemed better value were it not for the great price on their basic Pinot.
California Girl Comments: This was an interesting one. To me it had a soft nose of leather to it, with a hint of allspice. This was a very smooth and rich wine and it would be a perfect Thanksgiving dinner companion.
2012 Barbera: Earth and raspberry notes on the nose. A great balance of berry and tannins on the tongue, with a soft hint of sweetness. The moment that I tasted it, I knew this was one that California Girl would love. I was right and it was the one that we purchased. Priced at $35.00
California Girl Comments: This was the winner of the day for me. I bought two bottles of this beauty. If you like cherry and plum flavors with hints of vanilla and cinnamon in your wine; this is the wine for you. Absolutely wonderful! The price was great too!
2013 Dolcetto: I smelled blackberries. The taste was dry, with far too dominant tannins; it may improve with age, but of the wines we drank it was the least impressive.
California Girl Comments: This wine had a gorgeous fruit nose, but when you taste it you get a mouth full of very strong tannins. This wine needs age. It would be interesting to come back and taste this wine after a couple of years.
2009 Merlot: The nose promised much, offering a heady mix of blackberries and wet gorse. The flavour was soft and not especially noteworthy; the tannins were nicely mellowed. To echo my thoughts on the Chardonnay, drinkable but unremarkable. The wine was priced at $34.00
California Girl Comments: This was a great sipping wine that you would pair with a cheese plate. Soft and round fruits on the palate and an amazing nose. I really enjoyed this wine. The price point is great too for a wine this drinkable.
2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: A deep rich nose with raspberry dominant. Age had softened the tannins and the result was a pleasant, very drinkable Cab, with a subtle hint of spiciness. Priced at $34.00
California Girl Comments: A nose of lavender and cassias, this wine has lots of fruit on the palate, but it has a very rough finish. This was not a wine I liked upon tasting. Maybe age would change my mind.
2010 Napa Valley Reserve: The grapes for this wine, the second not on the standard tasting, are sourced from Rutherford. The barrels are used for just five years and the wine spends twenty-four months in barrels. The flavour is a rich combination of fruit, chocolate, and a hint of nut. This is a very good Cab that is drinkable now. The wine was priced at $50.00
In summary, the wines at Madonna vary in quality from drinkable to excellent and are all reasonably priced. This value is accentuated by their wine club that starts with four shipments a year of two bottles. This means that a member’s commitment is just eight bottles a year, compared to the normal dozen. There is also a set of options on offer: one red and one white in a shipment, both red, both white, or both sweet. I cannot comment on the sweet option, as we skipped those on the tasting menu.